I am debating Steven Pinker on the “The Enlightenment and Its Alternatives” on Monday 6 November 2023 at 1800 GMT/1300 EST. The live debate is online and sponsored by The Institute for Arts and Ideas in London. I am also giving a solo interview on “Power and Politics” immediately before the debate. That interview is at 1715 GMT/1215 EST.
Nationalism as a policy of enduring geopolitical value should be more important than the delusions associated with liberal hegemony. In a related article from 2019, Mearsheimer presupposes that the U.S.-led liberal international order was destined to collapse from the start. John Mearsheimer! These statements you make are utter nonsense, and you are making excuses for the rule of authoritarian anti-human regimes! There is no such thing as liberal hegemony! And your realist view that "interactions between great powers are described as primarily driven by a rational desire to achieve regional hegemony in an anarchic international system" is inherently problematic and wrong and unfounded! The fact is that some democracies help their own popular allies everywhere because they defend themselves against the expansion of their enemy's authoritarian allies to maintain their own security! The realist perspective ignores popular oversight and control of elected officials and power, which is completely unrealistic! Even if one can't assume that the leaders of a democracy won't make bad decisions just by trusting their materialism, the oversight and control of officials and public power of all kinds in a democracy is effective in curbing such mistakes! The control of power in a democracy is the control of public power not to do anything wrong on a more realistic level! The realist kind of willful ignorance of the fact that people make decisions because of their own values that are not necessarily the same as other values is patently false! And nationalism is a narrow and grossly offensive value, and it is often used by dictators to incite hatred against foreign countries, especially democracies, to distract or even counteract the attention of the population from domestic conflicts and wrong policies! How can this be good for regional peace and security if the world is full of such dictators who incite hatred for the sake of authoritarian rule? Do you have the courage to answer me this question? And it is the regimes controlled by those anti-humanists who deprive people of their rights for the benefit of authoritarian rule that are the real hegemonies! Some countries oppose and attack democrats simply because of their extremely stupid and ignorant minds! It only proves that such ignorant people are not highly civilised. You rumour-mongering pro-authoritarian media always spread irrational disinformation under the guise of the so-called anti-mainstream media, pretending that you are the real deal! Stop playing such childish tricks! And you say "Putin is pursuing a realistic geopolitical programme to secure Russia's national interests in the face of the ever-expanding threat of NATO." It is even more irrational in the extreme! You are completely delusional in trying to rationalise Putin's invasion! You don't always look at things wrongly and imperfectly with your irrational realism of events! Ukraine is autonomously trying to join the EU in order to develop its economy, not NATO-initiated expansion as you claim! Your statement "If China's power is extended to Canada and Mexico is absolutely different in nature! Because Ukraine has legitimacy to join other organisations as a popularly empowered democracy and has no ambitions to undermine security, and Ukraine is not provoking Russia militarily! Whereas the Chinese government is an absolute authoritarian and anti-human government that does not even have a one-person, one-vote electoral system, and is itself opposed to democracy and freedom, China's political and military expansion with the post-expansion purpose of violating and destroying democratic countries is clearly illegitimate and will definitely undermine regional security! China's expansion for the post-expansion purpose of violating and destabilising democracies to maintain the stability of dictatorships is obvious, cannot be ruled out at all and is extremely probable! As a democracy the Ukrainian government and elected officials are unquestionably qualified to honour the choices made by the population in terms of economy and security! And what you are saying is a completely delusional attempt to rationalise Russia's invasion and crimes! And I'll say it again! The world is simply not explained away by your highly irrational realism with ignorant dialectical overtones! Rather, it is driven by a variety of values and ideas, like the famous saying that all history is the history of ideas. Only values that do not harm the rights and freedoms of the population can create peace and prosperity! Your claim that the US-led liberal democratic world order must be destroyed is also completely illogical and impossible! What is possible is only that the United States will no longer lead the liberal-democratic world order, not that the liberal-democratic world order will disappear from the world!
I do believe there will be a lot to pick apart when it comes to Pinker's views of the enlightenment.
For example, he argues that the Enlightenment fostered the growth of principles such as reason, science, humanism, and progress. These Enlightenment ideas, according to Pinker, have helped to reduce violence, elevate people out of poverty, and lead to more wealthy and healthier civilizations around the world.
Pinker argues that the Enlightenment encouraged people to question traditions and rely more on "evidence, reason and compassion". This, he says, has helped overturn irrational and inhumane practices. He also thinks that Enlightenment thinking promoted political ideals like liberty, constitutional government, free speech and equality. Ergo these values have helped establish fairer, safer and more just societies.
Specifically I think he'll likely define the following terms in the debate thusly:
Reason: The belief that we can use our rationality to understand the world and solve problems.
Science: The pursuit of knowledge through empirical evidence and experimentation.
Humanism: The belief that all human beings are inherently valuable and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
Progress: The belief that the world can be improved through human effort.
Pinker may launch an attack on the opposing side who denigrate the Enlightenment as a "Eurocentric" or "colonialist effort". He claims that the values of the Enlightenment are universal and have helped people all around the world. He also admits that the Enlightenment was not without flaws, but believes that its overall impact was favorable.
So anyway, this should be an interesting exchange.
Looking forward do it, Mearsheimer. Crush Pinker!!
This might be interesting and, if the titles are accurate and you dont stray off into Israel and Ukraine would be really interesting even though it will go over most peoples heads. The principal challengers to the "enlightenment" were .. Hitler and other varieties of fascism, aka neomedievalism. Even marxism is an enlightenment ideology. I am no liberal, but other than fascism in modernity you are not likely to find other than alternatives to the enlightenment paradigm, even in China!
A big Nothing Burger. Amazing, you will spend time with this sociopath, this self-important stain of a human, this Jeff Epstein-loving misanthrope.
While the world burns. Pinker, The Stare of Empty Eyes!
Pinker says that dignity is “fungible.” From his rant:
'The Council and Vatican treat dignity as a sacred value, never to be compromised. In fact, every one of us voluntarily and repeatedly relinquishes dignity for other goods in life. Getting out of a small car is undignified. Having sex is undignified. Doffing your belt and spread- eagling to allow a security guard to slide a wand up your crotch is undignified. Most pointedly, modern medicine is a gantlet of indignities. Most readers of this article have undergone a pelvic or rectal examination, and many have had the pleasure of a colonoscopy as well. We repeatedly vote with our feet (and other body parts) that dignity is a trivial value, well worth trading off for life, health, and safety.'
Pinker is completely missing the point, probably on purpose, by mixing up what we might call capital-D Dignity, e.g. intrinsic worth, value, and importance with small-d dignity, e.g., not being in a humiliating or potentially demeaning circumstance. I didn’t lose my intrinsic worth because I had a colonoscopy last summer. But it wasn’t something I would want to do in public and yes, it would be embarrassing to have it done in display window. But protecting the importance of human life and the minor “indignities” of being comical whilst getting out of a small car or the ludicrous posturings of hot sex are two totally different concepts.
He also states that dignity is “harmful,” again misusing the term totally:
J'ean Bethke Elshtain rhetorically asked, “Has anything good ever come from denying or constricting human dignity?” The answer is an emphatic “yes.” Every sashed and be-medaled despot reviewing his troops from a lofty platform seeks to command respect through ostentatious displays of dignity. Political and religious repressions are often rationalized as a defense of the dignity of a state, leader, or creed: Just think of the Salman Rushdie fatwa, the Danish cartoon riots, or the British schoolteacher in Sudan who faced flogging and a lynch mob because her class named a teddy bear Mohammed. Indeed, totalitarianism is often the imposition of a leader’s conception of dignity on a population, such as the identical uniforms in Maoist China or the burqas of the Taliban. '
They call this a circle jerk, Juan:
In one sense I think it is a huge loss but in another, the absence of what is traditionally seen as a public intellectual, is no loss at all. For perhaps this idea of public is now so eroded and deformed as to be meaningless. By which I mean, the world, or the Western world, is a virtual public. One cannot argue this I don’t think. Prospect magazine listed what they believed were the world’s (sic) leading public intellectuals. The results were predictably horrifying. The list included…Steven Pinker, Slavoj Zizek, Richard Dawkins, Paul Krugman, Jared Diamond, Niall Ferguson, and Elon Musk. Of course this is a conservative publication, but then only conservatives would even entertain this idea. And lists are famously idiotic anyway. Still, it suggests something about the loss of a certain kind of thinking. Dominic Losurdo or Carlo Ginzburg or Roberto Callaso are not mentioned in the top one hundred. Nor are Michael Parenti or John Bellamy Foster or Ed Herman, or even Adam Phillips, say. The rise of TED level pop thought is the new cyber public — the electronic public. That relative morons like Ferguson or Dawkins are now elevated to the status of pop icon is hardly surprising. Back in 2001 The Nation ran an edition devoted to public intellectuals and mentioned Daniel Bell, Nathan Glazer, Michael Walzer, Christopher Lasch, Herb Gans, Paul Starr, Robert Jay Lifton and Christopher Hitchens. Again, horrifying. The reality is that the public as an idea is utterly colonized by entertainment. Soon I expect George Clooney or Angelina Jolie will make the list. In 2002 the New York Times held a poll of sorts for leading public intellectuals and Henry Kissinger came in first. I would be willing to guess a list compiled in 1960 or 1950 would be far less dreadful. Perhaps still reactionary at the core, but less stultifyingly stupid. But I digress.